Why New Yorkers Are Moving to Philly and What It Means for Our City

After 9/11, scores of tired, disenchanted and financially strapped New Yorkers began moving into Philadelphia to begin new lives. Here, one Big Apple transplant explains what the influx has wrought.

New Yorkers love possible, and one dubious hallmark of that optimism is gentrification. Creative-class New Yorkers are infamous for occupying struggling neighborhoods in the outer boroughs and outlying areas like Jersey City. They’re doing it in Philly, too. New Yorkers, realtors told me, are renovating houses in areas of Germantown, East Passyunk, Point Breeze, and sundry zip codes that few thought could be revived by any economic engine. And truthfully, they still might not.

“Neighborhoods change a lot more slowly in Philadelphia than they do in New York,” Christopher Plant, a realtor at Elfant Wissahickon, tells me. “But once New Yorkers hit Philadelphia, they tend to have this renewed optimism. And besides, they’re networkers, and they’re used to working really hard. A lot of them are pulling it off.”

It turns out that a lot of those who are pulling it off—in real estate and beyond—are originally from here. Indeed, the trend has accrued such critical mass that at least in the Department of Commerce’s Office of Business Attraction and Retention, some officials have cooled their long-held efforts to stymie Philly’s braindrain. “Let them go and do time in New York or Los Angeles, let them gain business and life experience,” director Karen Randal explains. “When they’re ready, they come back and realize what a great city Philadelphia is, and they bring their expertise, business and enthusiasm back here and help pump in new life.”

Christopher Plant is himself an NY-Delphian. After attending Temple in the late 1980s, he moved to New York and, as a partner in the successful art and performance space Galapagos, helped revive Williamsburg, then a dangerous mix of addicts and Hasidic families. Upon moving back to Philly in 2002, Plant recast himself as a civic booster, launching guerrilla campaigns to lure Brooklynites here and becoming an active board member of local non-profits, including the Franklin’s Paine Skatepark, which breaks ground this month near the Art Museum and will purportedly be the largest in the country.

Amanda Steinberg is another. The 34-year-old founder and CEO of DailyWorth.com—an online women’s financial advice site with 350,000 subscribers—is a Center City native who, like me, went to Baldwin in Bryn Mawr before graduating from Columbia in the ’90s. We didn’t know each other then, but our stories are almost identical: We wanted a less costly, more humane pace of life for our families, but we needed to be close to New York for work.

“I’m living out the existential mogul fantasy,” she confides over scones at Cake, a Chestnut Hill bakery that we both peg as being “like Baked in Red Hook, if it were in Park Slope.” Steinberg confesses relief at “not having to walk out of the house every morning with a perfect blow-out and keratin treatment” but still being able to head a high-powered operation: “I get to run a New York-based business, but live and do most of my work in this beautiful, affordable, family-friendly neighborhood with excellent schools, and spend time with my kids.”

Same thing for Anne Rivers, whose toddler daughter will attend my three-year-old son’s daycare, Summit Children’s Program in West Mount Airy, this fall. (A side note: When I mentioned I was writing this st­ory, a dozen NY-Delphian parents e-mailed me their cell phone numbers, all with New York area codes. Look, you can’t expect us to go completely cold-turkey.) With longtime Pennsylvania roots, Rivers heads up brand strategy consulting at the New York-based firm BAV Consulting. Her story mirrors Steinberg’s, mine and scads of others: moved for quality of life after living in New York for more than a decade. “I end up doing a lot of networking on the train from Philadelphia to New York with people in a similar work-life situation,” she says, chuckling. Rivers is open to scouting possibilities for a Philadelphia office for her division.

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  • Christian Harris

    There are some great public schools in Philly, you just have to find them.

    • Inquizative

      Yes, there is. Central High, where my son goes, is an excellent choice. I suggest to first try to find a “public” school first. Those charter schools, I don’t trust because they are profit driven and when that’s the case, profit comes before education.

  • anonymous


  • KG18

    So wait… they talked about the diversity of where they live in Philly – but questioned why they would want to live in Queens???? Queens is the most diverse place in the United States!!

    • Danielle Thomas

      Philly is Not Diverse.

      We are a City of Neighborhoods and if you are not of the same race as that neighborhood people there can make you feel Very uncomfortable; like some years ago Kensington was a neighborhood that if a Black person, even a lone female, merely walked through she might get beat up by whatever Whites saw her, including White children, and even in the afternoon on a very public street. Many of those White people still live in Kensington and neighborhoods like Kensington, and raised their children to be of the same barbarous racist mindset. So although, you may not be beat up they can; nevertheless, make you feel very uncomfortable, including trashing your house.

      Philly still has a way to go when it comes to diversity but they have improved.

  • cmp

    hey anonymous – you’re an idiot. There is the well known Independence Hall you speak of, but there is also the Indy Hall she speaks of. Why don’t you take 5 seconds to google before you spew crap from your mouth. (p.s. to the author – your NYC ways may be strange and different from ours, but we’re glad to have you back in philly)

  • Illidelphia

    I think the moral of this story is this: It’s always better to live in a place that’s underrated than a place that’s overrated. Welcome to Philly, you must have good taste. That being said, what separates the cool, gritty, artsy, hip culture in Philly from the swanky, vain elitism of much of NYC is the fact that the vast majority of us still believe dropping $300 on a sun dress is stupid. Once there is a critical mass of people like you, Philly will start to feel a lot like NYC: out of touch and pointlessly overpriced.

  • Gus

    My beautiful Philadelphia!!! On the Rise….i’m moving back from New York.

  • Charles

    Loving the fact that Philadelphia is once again recognized as on of the fastest growing cities, I have decided to move my Family and my business back home! Great oppurtunities are looming there for the smart investor. Just think about what you’ve been paying, and what you could be paying now…”Yes to Philly” I’m on my way!!!

  • http://www.paxlistings.com/ PaxListings

    Philadelphia is a good place to live.People are prefer to move to the Philadelphia due to the reasons like food,sports,diverse neighborhoods, and low cost of living.As Charles said Great opportunities are looming there for the smart investor. If you’re looking for affordable living, then it’s time to move to Philadelphia- America’s next great city.

  • tsol

    “Citizens in each of the five boroughs packed up their belongings and
    told reporters they would rather blow their brains out with a shotgun
    than spend another waking moment in this festering cesspool of filth and
    scum and sadness.”

    Exactly how I felt about Philly when I lived there in the 90s. A more hateful, narrow-minded, peasant-suspicious unwelcoming violent place I’ve never seen in my entire life. Just stay the fuck away from the Italians, Irish, blacks and everyone else and you’ll be ok. Also stay away from the crass NE Philly, Cherry Hill and Manayunk imbeciles. And watch out for the snobby, arrogant elitist Penn professors and students and the patronizing Main Liners, Chestnut Hill and Rittenhouse Square residents.

    In fact, fuck Philly and all of it’s inbred urban yokel natives.

    • Inquizative

      Initially I though of writing a kind letter to you. Then I thought, maybe he’s too overwhelmed with anger and emotion. Wow, what could have happened? Take care, and I hope you find happiness elsewhere.
      -A typical Philly person, peace!

    • LoverNHater

      Why are Italians or even Irish on the list? 😉

      • Danielle Thomas

        Because, like many Whites in Philly they definitely belong there!

  • Gerald Kolpan

    I moved here from New York in 1970.

    Our cool places and unique neighborhoods aren’t a New York “version” of ANYTHING considering that most of them were already operational when Harlem was a farmer’s field.

    And trust me, if New York had places like 9th street and Reading Terminal Market, they long ago would have become havens for tourists and rich schmucks.

    The thing most New Yorkers take years to figure out is that in Philly, family, clan and neighborhood come first and money is a very distant second. In Philadelphia, Donald Trump would be seen for what he is – a stupid vulgarian – and nobody, rich or poor, would talk to him.

    Let’s face it: New York lost it’s soul…its little book stores, it’s curio shops, its funky restaurants, its beatnik bars and Greek coffee shops…years ago. Now it’s a lot like everywhere else only completely unaffordable unless you’re one of those aforementioned rich schmucks.

    It’s still real here, folks. I hope we can keep it that way.

    • realposter

      what are you talking about? No Greek coffee shops?? Ever been to Astoria? “funky restaurants”? what does that even mean? PPl got restaurants to eat good food… and there is plenty of it from every corner of the globe. Whether it’s Russian food in Brighton Beach to Korean food in Flushing to Puerto Rican anywhere in The Bronx or seafood on City Island… you’re just off.

      you basically just sound jealous. Donald Trump didn’t grow up in Philly… and nobody in NY even pays him much attention… That’s you out of towners who watch too much television.

      • Brophy

        I think what he means is that there are very few “authentic” places left in NYC. The allure of NYC, at least for me, was the rich history of every corner, the music clubs in the city, the identifiable neighborhoods,etc… Sure, there’s Russian/Korean/Spanish restaurants here, but many of them have opened up within the past 5-10 years. You can find those restaurants in any big city. The restaurants and places that made NYC unique are disappearing. Most of the neighborhood bars are gone. Any music club that doesn’t cater to electronic music/hip-hop is gone. As a native NYer, I can’t stand the fact that everything in this city has been built to attract tourists. Those “funky restaurants” have largely been run out by restaurant chains, skyrocketing rents, and/or Bloomberg’s relentless fines. NYC is beginning to look like Disneyland and all the things that native New Yorkers loved are nearly extinct. If I could find a good everything bagel outside of NYC, I’d have already moved myself.

        • realposter

          the only ppl I hear complain is the ppl who can’t afford their rent. the vast majority of ppl enjoy the improved quality of life. i have no idea what you re trying to say if you think there are no identifiable neighborhoods. Guess what – things change. cities work by supply and demand. there is great demand foR NYC from all around the world… so it’s expensive. it’s really that simple.
          if you don’t like it you should move to “any big cITY”. Are you with a straight face going to tell me living in houston or Las vegas is in any way like living in NYc or Philly itself?

  • joe

    The new Yorkers are being driven out by liberal policies run wild and oddly enough these bozo’s voted for the policies that drove them out and being from fishtown it was not that long ago when you could go a whole day and not see any black people and now I see at least 5 a day and I don’t like this trend. I don’t want to see fishtown become a ghetto with high crime and violence.

  • Diana

    I’m commenting on the post referring to blacks turning philly Into a ghetto. As a former New Yorker ( not from the city but from Long Island) I love Philly. Now I do experience the racial indifference but I think it’s simply the whites not understanding the melting pot that is New York. Are their ghetto blacksSure ! Just like there is white trash. It’s time we start judging people rather than their skin tone. I personally won’t live in certain areas of philly not due to race but class. I have a career and so does my husband and I have no desire to raise my children around people that don’t share the same values as I do. I currently live in Burlhome (northeast) but I’m making plans to move to cheltenham not because of blacks ( because I’m black myself) but because of a certain type of person that is a drain on our economy